I recently had a conversation with Carlos Irula, a pharmacy manager with Kroger Pharmacy in Frisco, TX. Carlos graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 2014 and has since launched a side business called Care Commute.
He’s a great example of how pharmacists can launch a side-hustle that helps them engage their creativity and solve needs for the people around them and for their communities.
Alex Barker: So give us the seven-second pitch. What is Care Commute?
Carlos Irula: Care Commute is a kids’ transportation service. We shuttle kids to and from school to after-school programs. It’s not on-demand service, but it’s prescheduled. We’re trying to get an app that will let us go on-demand. Kind of like Uber for kids.
I guess the main difference for us is that we try to make sure that our drivers are experienced in childcare: childcare providers, nannies, babysitters, grandparents, and we even had a former police officer too.
AB: I think this actually meets a huge need. For those of you who may not have kids yet, you can't be 14 and order an Uber. You have to be 18 or over, I believe.
And for those parents who are extremely busy -- you have dual incomes -- it can be a huge challenge to transport your kids all over the place. I can see this meeting a huge need.
How in the world did you create this alongside your wife when you’re working full-time as a pharmacy manager?
CI: It wasn’t easy but the actual inspiration came from my wife. She saw how there was a lack of this type of service, and parents just not having enough time to transport their children. So last summer she quit her job.
As far as doing both, sometimes we have our 12-hour shifts and come home and continue to work after hours. I’m up ‘til 2 in the morning just making sure we’re putting in our best effort.
AB: So it was a joint effort? What’s your role in the company?
CI: Mainly, I deal with the marketing. We’re starting to prepare more of a finessed business plan and sales pitch to try to get more investors.
We did pretty well our first year but my role besides the marketing is helping to get into the community both as a pharmacist and helping the community out with our service as well.
AB: Do you guys also have kids?
CI: We have three pups. Those are our kids.
AB: They can be a full-time job. That’s the reason we haven’t gotten a dog. So you’re not actually on the streets driving kids?
CI: No, I leave that to the experts. My wife is awesome with the kids. They love her.
Since she has been working with kids for such a long time, she kind of knows what they expect. I had never really thought about consistency and having a consistent driver or the same driver for a particular route. One of our models is to have the same driver for the kids just to keep that consistent.
AB: It increases the trust. So you’re obviously working 80 hours every two weeks. How much time do you think you’re putting into this?
CI: Anytime off of work I’m doing Care Commute stuff, so I would say well over 20 hours a week.
AB: That's actually quite normal for those of us who have a side hustle and are working on things on the side. We're trying to build systems so that eventually it can grow into something bigger.
What would you say right now has been the biggest challenge in growing this business?
CI: The biggest challenge right now is I guess gaining financial help that we need to create the app because the app would make things a lot easier for us schedule-wise. It would open the door to maybe hiring more drivers.
So the biggest hurdles we’re trying to figure out are the funding and then the drivers.
AB: How many drivers do you have?
CI: We have three full-time and then we have two standby or kind of like part-time. The standby drivers help if we get a route that we can’t really service right now. Our actual model right now is more of a shuttle but we want to transition into on-demand.
AB: What would you say has been a struggle or a barrier to success? You know, you spend all this time at work and you have this exciting business idea that you want to build and create and launch.
What has been a struggle that has constantly come up over the last year as you’ve been working on this business?
CI: I think for us it has just been the time. There are a lot of times where you have to decide whether or not you go to the movies or go to dinner or work on the website, and post on social media or figure out the next event that we need to start up so we can network with the community.
The biggest thing is giving up some of the free time that we used to have and dedicating it to the business because we know we want to make sure it’s successful.
AB: What made you say that this is worth giving up your free time? I get a lot of emails from people saying “I want to do this, but I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know what to build.” What made you say, “Okay, this is worth my time”?
CI: My wife actually brought the idea to me years ago. I didn’t really think she was as serious as she was until last summer and then I started thinking about it.
It’s a very niche market, but there’s so much need. We don’t have children but we do see the benefit of the service and it could grow nationwide, but even if it was just localized it would work.
It’s just a matter of figuring it all out. I knew this was something that had some traction.
AB: As you are building it out, can you see the vision for where it’s going? Do you have an idea of what that looks like and what you’re hoping it will become?
CI: We do have a vision of hopefully getting the funding to reach those steps but we just feel that a lot of the services for transportation are heading towards that on-demand, like Uber, Lyft, and things like that. We want to go into that model but always making sure we’re prioritizing safety.
We want to make sure we’re catering to our niche: kind of like childcare but with transportation services.
AB: So knowing everything you know now as you build this business, what advice would you give to people who are either in the beginning stages of their idea or who are fresh to this whole different way of thinking?
CI: I guess for me, in particular, I would say that whenever we thought of the idea, and when we were sure that we were going to go ahead and start, I thought I had to get it all done in a day. It just doesn’t work that way, and you end up stressing yourself out, especially when you have your regular job to do.
I would say that it helps to make a plan before you start and set dates and timelines for what you should be accomplishing.
And then realizing that it’s going to take a lot of your free time. It takes a lot of work to build up a good reputation depending on your business. There are many factors in entrepreneurship, but for me, I’m structuring it so that it won’t happen all in one day.
AB: On top of this, you have another project you’re working on. Like me, when you find the entrepreneurial bug, you tend to find other problems that exist in the world. So you told me earlier you’re working on your other project which is called Your Neighborhood Pharmacist. Tell us a little bit about that project.
CI: This is kind of piggybacking off of Care Commute, where I deal with the marketing side, and the social media mainly. I always noticed that independent pharmacies that I’ve seen within our community aren’t really present as far as social media goes.
If they are present, it isn’t to the extent that they probably should be because there are so many businesses in the area that are taking over the niches that the independent pharmacies should be controlling. I started Your Neighborhood Pharmacist to help out independent pharmacies with their social media.
AB (laughing): You dog. You just can’t stop, can you?
CI: It’s tough. I mean, it takes a lot of time, but I enjoy it. It actually fuels me throughout the day knowing that I can come home and work on this.
I think for sure if you work for 12 hours and you still have to come and work on your side business, if you don’t have that fire to look forward to working at it, it may not be as successful just because it’s going to take a toll.
AB: So as you’re working on these businesses, what do you think the Carlos five years from now wants to tell you in this moment?
CI: Probably to slow down, or to not go 150 percent all the time. Structuring small projects helped me out because I focused on having things done within five days or within two weeks.
Kinda slow down and think most of it out because a lot of times you may think you have it figured out but there’s obviously some stuff that messes with your plan. If you have a plan, at least you were prepared.
AB: Is there anything you can do soon to slow down?
CI: Initially when I started Your Neighborhood Pharmacist, I was staying up super late and working on everything from the ground up so there was a lot of work to be done.
Now that it’s more broken down into two-week periods, it gives me more time to not be crammed in a room for hours on end. And we still have Care Commute, too, so it’s a good amount of stuff.
AB: Any final words? Anything you’d like to say before we close out?
CI: I appreciate the opportunity just to do this interview. I think it's awesome what you're doing. I think we just stumbled together through LinkedIn and we got to know each other a little bit.
It’s awesome to see pharmacist creating their own little niches or side-hustles. Hopefully, something like this takes off and you can show how diverse the community really is.
AB: Carlos, thank you so much for your time.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.